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The foundations on which our culture is constructed rely mostly on women being entirely submissive to the needs of men. It always strikes us that culture is always used by oppressors as an excuse for their wrongdoing. By whichever means women are diminished – being denied education, being forced to cover up from head to toe or by being pushed at a young age into marriages to men three times their age.

But the perpetrators of these crimes are not always stereotypically brutish men who are hell-bent on keeping women in their place.

There may be reports about how men in certain communities abuse and ill-treat women, but such stories rarely mention a deeply painful truth: a sickening degree of oppression stems from other women, who help propel the grisly merry-go-round of cultural abuse. When young brides first get married, they are summoned by the elder women in the homestead and given ‘advise’ on how to keep their marriages going.


They are told that a woman shall honour her husband at all times, which is true and very much important, but the ways in which she is expected to make this a reality are oppressive and debasing. According to our culture, a woman is not supposed to question her husband; she is supposed to respect his decision should he decide to marry a second wife. It is culturally justifiable that a man marries a second wife if the first wife can’t give birth to a baby boy. An example of a cultural practice that has never made sense to us is this - if a woman attends a community meeting in which there are men, she cannot make an input, and if she has an opinion, she needs to tell it to a man so that he can then convey it to the others in the meeting.

Women often perpetuate other deeply exploitative practices. In many developing nations, children are raised almost entirely by women, often collectively. Women, then, are the ones who pass down tradition through folk stories, and oversee how girls are dressed and behave.

Perhaps this great need to ensure the stability of tradition from one generation to another explains why they are willing to oppress their own sex. So why would women choose to inflict such severe physical and psychological consequences on younger, more vulnerable versions of themselves?

There may be some element of the abused becoming the abuser, but this seems too simplistic to explain generations of women oppressing, or being part of the oppression of successive ones.

Culture is supposed to be a beautiful thing, it is supposed to make us feel like we belong, and culture isn’t meant to be used as an excuse for behaving in a certain barbaric manner against women. How will women embrace and love culture if it’s used to demean them? How will women pass the lovely culture on to their children if they themselves are not so fond of it?

Dlamini Nomsa

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